Thursday, January 31, 2008

Two Years of Blogging

It’s been two years since I started blogging. When I started out, I did not think that this blog would turn out to be the way it did. Now, I can say, ‘yes, I understand and empathize with the power of blogging’.

Power of blogging

It has been a great experience. I believe that vocalizing your thoughts and opinions builds one's character. I can understand why. Writing allows you to know more about yourself. In most companies, we ask employees to set their own goals, write their own strengths and weaknesses. This makes employees more accountable.

The same way, most business schools ask the candidates to write essays. Most of them emphasize on writing them in own words and about oneself. Is it a sheer coincidence or is it that I always knew deep in some corners of my subconscious mind that I would now be doing the same thing that I wrote in an essay for my MBA application (six years ago)? When I wrote that essay I did not believe that’s what I would be doing though I wrote it as a hypothetical speech I was supposed to give ten years later as alumnus.

The very idea of expressing yourself in writing allows you to question yourself, ‘do you really mean what you say?’, and ‘do you really practice what you preach?’ That constant questioning changes you and over a period of time, you start becoming like what you write. If you write good, most probably you become good. On this blog, I write what I think is right, and that keeps me correcting myself in my life. It’s as if my blog is watching me and telling me to do the right thing.

My comments

I have been criticized for the way I deal with some of the commenters. I admit that my patience runs out very soon when answering some questions, and very soon the exasperation is palpable. I try to be patient, but looks like I am not.

I do not like to use the comments section to reiterate my position. I feel that I have put my thoughts already in the article. That should be good enough for most people to understand my position. Sometimes I would not have clarified my position clearly, and that’s when I do explain it in the comments.

I encourage people to write their opinions. That does not mean I am ready for a long debate just to quench intellectual curiosity. Either you agree or disagree. I have no problems with disagreement. However, I do get irritated when people use my statements and position to prove something different from what is conveyed in this blog. They keep at it incessantly and that bugs me, naturally. Their motive is not to discuss or debate, but only to discredit me, reduce me to their level so that they can go home happy. I have no problem with such commenters. But I may stop responding to such comments.

Moderate or not

There are some unmoderated blogs out there where people can write what they want. Usually unmoderated blogs are more attractive to visitors compared to moderated blogs. That’s because the comments appear right away in unmoderated blogs further extending the debate as if it is a live chat.

However, I would stick to moderation since some commenters abuse that privilege. It’s like giving freedom to people and they think they get a right to piss right in the middle of the street. My moderation is like a traffic signal. Freedom does not mean you can cross the junction at any time. You can cross only when it is green.

Here are some statistics after two years.

The number of hits for the first year is: 28,440 (as of 1st Feb 2007)

The number of hits in two years is: 114,151 (as of 31st Jan 2008)

The current average per day is 348.83

That’s tiny compared to what a column gets in a newspaper.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

People vs Larry Flynt II

Do I need to say again that I really like this movie? [Here's Part I] Here’s the court scene from this movie, where Alan Isaacman defends Larry Flynt in the Supreme Court of United States. This is Larry Flynt vs Jerry Falwell (an admired and respectable religious figure in United States). Background - Larry Flynt’s magazine ran an ad (with small print - "ad parody - not to be taken seriously") which suggests that Jerry Falwell had sex with his mother in an outhouse.
Alan Isaacman:
Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court- one of the most cherished ideas that we hold in this country is that there should be uninhibited public debate and freedom of speech. 

The question you have before you today is whether a public figure's right to protection from emotional distress should outweigh the public interest in allowing every United States citizen to freely express his views.

(About Exhibit A), was a satire of a public figure of Jerry Falwell, who in this case, was a prime candidate for such a satire because he's such an unlikely person to appear in a liquor ad.

This is a person we are used to seeing at the pulpit, Bible in hand preaching with a famously beatific smile on his face.

Supreme Court:
But what is the public interest you're describing? That there is some interest in making him look ludicrous?

Alan Isaacman:
Yes, there is a public interest in making Jerry Falwell look ludicrous insofar as there is a public interest in having Hustler magazine express the point of view that Jerry Falwell is full of B.S.

Hustler magazine has every right to express this view. They have the right to say that somebody who has campaigned actively against their magazine who has told people not to buy it, who has publicly said that it poisons the minds of Americans, who, in addition, has told people sex out of wedlock is immoral, that they shouldn't drink. 

Hustler magazine has a First Amendment right to publicly respond to these comments by saying that Jerry Falwell is full of B.S.

It says, "Let's deflate this stuffed shirt and bring him down to our level." Our level, in this case, being, admittedly, a lower level than most people would like to be brought to. 

(Laughter in the Court)

I know I'm not supposed to joke, but that's sort of the point.

Supreme Court:

Mr. Isaacman, the First Amendment is not everything. It's of very important value, but it's not the only value in our society. What about another value which says that good people should be able to enter public life and public service?

The rule you give us says if you stand for public office or become a public figure in any way you cannot protect yourself or, indeed, your mother against a parody of your committing incest with her.

Do you think that George Washington would've stood for public office if that was the consequence?

Alan Isaacman:

It's interesting that you mention George Washington, Justice Scalia, because very recently I saw a XYZ-year-old political cartoon. It depicts George Washington riding on a donkey being led by a man, and the caption suggests that this man is leading an ass to Washington.

Supreme Court:

I can handle that. I think George can too. 

But that's a far cry from committing incest with your mother in an outhouse.
There's no line between the two?

Alan Isaacman:

No, Justice Scalia, I would say there isn't, because you're talking about a matter of taste, not law. As you yourself said, I believe, in Pope vs. Illinois - "It's useless to argue about taste and even more useless to litigate it". And that is the case here.

The jury has already determined that this is a matter of taste, not of law because they've said there's no libelous speech - that nobody could reasonably believe that Hustler was actually suggesting Falwell had sex with his mother.

So why did Hustler have him and his mother together?

Hustler puts him and his mother together in a example of literary travesty, if you will.

Supreme Court:

And what public purpose does this serve?

Alan Isaacman:

The same public purpose as Garry Trudeau saying Reagan has no brain or that George Bush is a wimp. It lets us look at public figures a little bit differently.

We have a long tradition in this country of satiric commentary.
If Jerry Falwell can sue when there has been no libelous speech purely on the grounds of emotional distress then so can other public figures.
Imagine, if you will, suits against people like Garry Trudeau and Johnny Carson, for what he says on The Tonight Show.

Obviously, when people criticize public figures they're going to experience emotional distress.

We all know that. 

It's easy to claim and impossible to refute.

That's what makes it a meaningless standard.

Really, all it does is allow us to punish unpopular speech.

This country is founded, at least in part on the firm belief that unpopular speech is vital to the health of our nation.

After the court proceedings, Alan Isaacman calls Larry Flynt at his home.

Alan Isaacman:

It's Alan. They just brought the decision in.

Larry Flynt:

Well, is it good or bad?

Alan Isaacman:

It's a unanimous decision. Rehnquist wrote it himself.

"At the heart of the First Amendment is the recognition of the fundamental importance of the free flow of ideas.
Freedom to speak one's mind is not only an aspect of individual liberty but essential to the quest for truth and the vitality of society as a whole. In the world of debate about public affairs many things done with motives that are less than admirable are nonetheless protected by the First Amendment."

Larry Flynt:

So we won.

Alan Isaacman:
Yes. We won.

People vs. Larry Flynt

The movie, People vs. Larry Flynt, is about a guy (Larry Flynt) who has been dragged to courts all through his life, jailed, and shot at, crippling him for the rest of his life, all because he published and sold pornographic magazines in United States.

The movie deals with a topic that is distasteful to most conservative populations in the world – pornography. But yet, it defends the right of this man, considered the lowliest, the distasteful, the disagreeable and egregious of all. The highest value being – ‘I detest what you say, but yet, I will fight for your right’.

India and Indians do not understand what freedom means. They equate it to being able to piss anywhere they want, even in the middle of the street. They think they can shut up anyone they want to. If it means attacking or beating up someone, or using the political clout, so be it. They do not distinguish between universal values and personal values. This is a good time, after sixty years of freedom, to reflect upon how we look at our values as a nation. I think this movie ought to be shown to all the adult population of India, and if needed shown on all TV channels on Republic Day and Independence Day.

I was watching this movie for the second time yesterday. I thought it made sense to write some of those dialogs here for the readers.

Larry Flynt, publisher of a risqué magazine, called Hustler, is taken to court for publishing and selling pornographic pictures. In the court, he defends his right to publish pornography though it is distasteful to some.

Q: But isn't a community allowed to set its own standards?

Larry Flynt: No. That's just a disguise for censorship. This country belongs to me as much as it belongs to you, Mr. Leis. If you don't like Hustler magazine, don't read it.

Q: I don't. But what about the innocent children who gaze upon your magazine in our grocery stores?

Larry Flynt: If a kid gets caught drinking beer in a tavern we don't ban Budweiser across the nation.

In this blog, I have done my best to defend the rights of minorities, the distasteful, the disagreeable, the downtrodden, and the backward (with some exceptions). However, the film summarizes this stand much better than I could have done.

Alan Isaacman, the lawyer defending Larry Flynt makes the case to jury.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury you've heard a lot here today and I won't try to go back over it all. But you have to go back in that room and make some decisions and there is one thing I want to make very clear to you before you do. I'm not trying to convince you that you should like what Larry Flynt does.

I don't like what he does.

But what I do like is that I live in a country where you and I can make that decision for ourselves. I like that I live in a country where I can pick up Hustler magazine read it if I want or throw it in the trash, if that's where I think it belongs. Or I can not buy it.

I like that right. I care about it. And you should care about it too because we live in a free country.

We say that a lot, but sometimes we forget what that means, so listen again.

We live in a free country.

That is a powerful idea. That's a magnificent way to live. But there is a price for that freedom, which is that sometimes we have to tolerate things that we don't necessarily like.

So go back in that room where you are free to think whatever you want to think about Larry Flynt and Hustler magazine.

But then ask yourselves if you want to make that decision for the rest of us because the freedom that everyone in this room enjoys is, in a very real way, in your hands.

If we start throwing up walls against what some of us think is obscene we may wake up one morning and realize that walls have been thrown up in places we never expected and we can't see anything or do anything.

And that's not freedom. That is not freedom.

PS: I realize something more. The opening quotation on this blog – “Opinions are like assholes, everyone has one”, is attributed to Larry Flynt.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Nano: Tata’s 1 lakh car

Yesterday, Tata unveiled its 1 lakh car. It comes as great news. It was a much awaited event. Nobody knew if Tata would do it. There were doubts abound – in media, in people and with analysts. And all the details were kept secret till the last day. At last! The car has arrived – in all grandeur and splendor. And keeping all its promises!

Tata, an Indian company, has made world’s cheapest car. It is no ordinary feat! Making the cheapest car is not about being cheap. When you have a car that does everything what others do but yet is very cheap, it is an engineering and business marvel. While making it, one has to go back to the drawing board and relook at every strategy that you knew about car making and then ask yourself, ‘Is there a cheaper way of doing it, and yet retaining its function?’ It’s an ideology that you have to embrace in your thinking – in business and engineering. That is what Ratan Tata and Tata has done. And it’s a great achievement.

Maruti-Suzuki, the biggest car seller in India, conceded that they cannot put together a car for Rs. 1 Lakh, and went onto add that it’s an impossible task. Congratulations to Tata, Ratan Tata, and all the engineers, managers, workmen who made this impossible feat possible!

Promises kept

Yes, it is an engineering feat. Yes, it is a good business execution. But what is more important is that Rata Tata, who promised four years ago that he would give us 1 lakh car, has kept his promise.

“After all a promise is a promise,” Ratan Tata said, clarifying that it was not he but the media that mentioned the Rs.1 lakh price tag. “But I took it as a challenge,” the doyen of Indian industry disclosed.

In a country where most leaders promise and then go back on their promise, Rata Tata stuck to his promise and delivered it on it.

Few years ago, when his promise appeared in the news many people dismissed it. Even I did not think it would be possible. I thought this car may not transpire in the end – who knows, right? We have seen so many empty promises in our life – we don’t know which one to take seriously and which one to ignore.

But then, my wife really believed it. When I asked her to drive our car, she said, it was big for her, and that she was waiting for Tata’s 1 lakh car. Hesitatingly, I said, ‘what if it doesn’t happen?’ She didn’t have any doubts. She was quite confident that it would happen. Innocently, she said, ‘Tata said it himself. He said he would release the car. If he said it, he would do it’. I smiled to myself. I let her believe it.

Yesterday, the minute I saw the news on TV, I called her from the airport. She was quite excited. She told me, ‘Look, I told you so. Ratan Tata said he would do it. He did it’.

Thank you, Mr. Ratan Tata, for holding onto your promise. You have a believer in my wife!

On Business Leadership

That’s what leadership is all about. It’s the ability to keep your promises. The business throws too many ‘realities’ at you, but yet you keep your promise.

Ratan Tata, in another piece of news, has commissioned his team to create a low-cost water purifier. When asked what he would do next, he replied:

“Anything that we can do to reduce disparity.”

I am glad we have such people with us. I am glad we have such accomplishments to take pride in.

[There are personal reasons why I am happy today. Ratan Tata has corroborated some of my beliefs that set me on my own expedition. I hope I am able to write those reasons some day.]

Monday, January 07, 2008

Taare Zameen Par

[I wrote many articles on this blog- most of them criticize India and Indians. Beauty is hard to find in India. There is ugliness everywhere. But, once in a while I get a glimpse of something beautiful. And when I see something beautiful and excellent, I do not fail to celebrate it.]

Few days ago, I saw the movie Taare Zameen Par. It is one of those rare moments when you can really celebrate excellence right here in India. It is a very well made movie. Kudos to Amir Khan, Darsheel Safary and other very good artists who have made this movie worth watching! Photography was excellent, cinematography superb, and screenplay outstanding. Great direction! It moved me, it swayed me. And most important of all, it had a great message!

There were so many great moments in this movie and each moment was captured so well.

The movie is about a kid who just wants to have fun and grow up at his own pace. The movie captures so well each of those glimpses where a kid enjoys the world around him, innocently, and so childishly. The joy of that paint drop landing on Ishaan’s cheek, the urge to jump into the water puddles, dreaming dragons and monsters, are what the kid’s life is made up of. The present day parents, who are keen on pushing their kids to join their rat race, are robbing their kids from enjoying those beautiful moments. Nowadays, I don’t see kids (in cities and towns) playing in the evening. I see them coming home, and then going off to tuition or straight to homework.

The movie shows travails of a young lad who is just being himself, a kid, trying to cope with this ever competitive world. He wants to learn at his own pace. He wants to enjoy the finer things of life, waking up late, dreaming, and just having fun. Ishaan (the protagonist) is a fine artist but suffers from dyslexia. I still believe that this movie could have been made without using dyslexia as an excuse. It could have been any kid who just wanted to enjoy the life around him. The parents are frustrated with Ishaan, who never seems to learn to write or read. He is thrown into a boarding school because he does not conform to the expectations of his parents, his teachers, and his society.

Though it highlights the problem of one kid who stubbornly refuses to conform, there are millions of kids in India who are being told to give up their childhood. The kid’s life is now reduced to a drudgery of learning by rote. In one instance, when the Ishaan explains a Hindi poem in his own way, the teacher urges the students to ‘interpret’ it in exact same words he prescribed. There goes another kid’s creativity and originality down the drain.

Ishaan’s father wants his kid to conform, learn, and succeed. In this world and society, there is no room for deviating from the norms. The parents see their success through the accomplishments of their kids. Parents want their kid to be top engineer, a top doctor, a CEO, or a top sports player. Everybody wants child geniuses; nobody wants a nice human being.

Children tend to grow at different rates, taking their own times, not necessarily confined to the orderliness and timeliness of a curriculum of a school. A kid can grow the necessary skills to enter the mainstream at any age. What he does at a certain age does not determine his performance for the rest of his life. That’s why I keep saying that just because a kid got into a top school does not mean much. It only means that he was good at that age. To assume he would be good for the rest of his life, and to assume that a kid who has gone to an ordinary college would remain ordinary for the rest of his life is quite foolish- but that’s how most Indians measure themselves.

One of the important messages of the movie is that you need to care for your kid. It does not mean you provide food, good school, books, toys, and video games. What it means is that you need to be there and assure the kid that he is quite OK in whatever he does. Every kid needs to be treated special. And kids should end up feeling they are special.

What is important is how the kid pe
rceives this world. Caring parents who encourage, motivate, and applaud everything the kid does while ignoring his many ‘foibles’, ‘mistakes’, ‘flaws’, ‘guffaws’ and ‘inadequacies’, make kids life better. Hopefully, they make better human beings.

This movie conveys some important messages.

# Every kid is unique.

# Care for your kid and encourage him in whatever he does.

# Parents should not measure their kids only by their marks and scores in the exams.

And remember this:

Each kid grows differently at different rates at different ages. A kid who is completely uninterested in studying the alphabet, math or language at certain age may grow to like them at a later age and that’s when he will move at a rapid pace.

Then, there was a strong message from Amir Khan, about some islands where the tree just dies out because people around it curse it. Of course, it must be an allegory, but it has a good message. It’s so easy to kill a soul by constantly discouraging it.

We set our standards based on false assumptions, misconceived values, lofty morals and hypocritical ethics, and try to impose them on our kids, making their lives miserable. Here’s a speech from Lt. Col. Frank Slade from the movie Scent of a Woman. [This is one of my favorite movies – I have seen it more than 20 times].

And I have seen, boys like these, younger than these, their arms torn out, their legs ripped off. But there is nothin' like the sight of an amputated spirit, there is no prosthetic for that. You think you're merely sending this splendid foot-soldier back home to Oregon with his tail between his legs, but I say that you are executing his soul! And why? Because he's not a Baird man. Baird men, you hurt this boy, you're going to be Baird Bums, the lot of ya.

I really liked many aspects of Tare Zameen Par. Thank you Amir Khan, for giving me a piece of excellence to celebrate!

[I actually wrote a longer post interlaced with accounts from my childhood, but then I went on hold myself against posting it for obvious reasons].

Related Posts: Guide to Indian Idiocy I, Bad Parenting- Insensitivity and Indecency, Trying to find beauty in India, Apotheosis of IITs and myth of merit, My Stand on Reservations IV;